An unholy alliance of Islamophobic hate group members, neo-Nazis, white supremacists and armed anti-government militia members will rally against the nonexistent threat of sharia, or Islamic, law in the U.S this weekend.
The "March Against Sharia" rallies are set to place on Saturday in 29 cities across 21 states, and are being organized by Act for America, the nation's largest anti-Muslim hate group. Act for America has billed this weekend's events as some kind of noble stand against "atrocities" it attributes ― wrongly ― to sharia.
But a quick look at the group's origins and its members' statements reveal that pretext to be a ruse. Saturday's marches are against Muslims and Islam itself, and they're attracting some of the most dangerous elements of the far right.
"They are calling them 'Anti-Sharia' rallies, but let us call them what they are: 'Anti-Muslim' protests," Muslim activist and Women's March organizer Linda Sarsour wrote on Facebook. "If your definition of Sharia was defined by an anti-Muslim bigot, you might want to rethink it and ask a Muslim who actually follows the religion of Islam."
What You Need To Know About Act For America
Act for America is listed by the Southern Poverty Law Center as a hate group. It was founded by Brigitte Gabriel, a Christian immigrant from Lebanon. She has said that "every practicing Muslim is a radical Muslim" and that Muslims are a "natural threat to civilized people of the world, particularly Western society."
Although the "March Against Sharia" event page claims Act for America believes in religious freedom, Gabriel has also said that a "practicing Muslim, who believes in the teachings of the Quran, cannot be a loyal citizen to the United States of America."
Gabriel and Act for America have worked for years not only to spread fear of Muslims, but to strip Muslims of rights afforded to the followers of other faiths.
Act for America has also long pushed the conspiracy theory that sharia law ― the deeply misunderstood legal or philosophical code of Islam, interpreted differently by Muslims across the world ― poses a threat to the U.S. Constitution. (It does not.)
Still, Act for America has successfully lobbied state legislatures across the country to introduce, and often pass, bills banning sharia law in state courts. The "true aim" of these bills, the American Civil Liberties Union wrote in 2011, is to "denigrate an entire faith system."
Years ago, it was easier to brush off Gabriel as a fringe, far-right leader of a hate group. But that was before Donald Trump was president.
In recent months, Gabriel has bragged about having a "direct line" to the president, has been photographed having a meeting in the White House, and claims to have been dining with Trump at Mar-a-Lago when Trump decided to bomb Syria in April.
Yet Act for America's veneer of legitimacy hasn't prevented its members from blatant displays of bigotry. In February, member Robert Goodwill was recorded talking to a man who argued that all American Muslims should be killed.
"We're not there yet," Goodwill told the man.
The official Act for America "March Against Sharia" Facebook page is also rife with vile memes and comments denigrating Muslims.
'March Against Sharia' Rallies Draw Diverse Hate And Extremist Groups
The convergence of anti-Muslim groups and other fringe organizations is a growing phenomenon, the Southern Poverty Law Center noted.
SPLC trawled through all the local "March Against Sharia" Facebook groups and compiled an extensive list of extremist groups and white supremacists who said they will be showing up at the marches on Saturday.
They found a slew of armed anti-government militia groups, some with histories of threatening government officials. The groups claim they'll be providing "security" at the rallies, which means they'll likely show up with guns. Often called "Patriot" groups, they include the Oathkeepers, the III Percenters and American Civil Defense.
The SPLC also found avowed neo-Nazis and white supremacists eager to take part in the rallies across the country.
In Texas, members of the group Sons of Odin will be attending the Houston event. (Sons of Odin describes its beliefs as "closely aligned" with those of the Soldiers of Odin ― a white supremacist, anti-refugee vigilante organization.) And the neo-Nazi group White Lives Matter is set to attend the rally in Austin.
In Batesville, Arkansas, prominent neo-Nazi Billy Roper announced that he was organizing a "March Against Sharia" rally there. Earlier this week, when SPLC wrote a report about Roper's involvement, Act for America was quick to distance itself from him and withdrew its affiliation with the Arkansas protest.
In a statement to HuffPost, Act for America organizer Scott Presler said "hateful individuals sometimes latch onto others in a parasitic way in order to elevate themselves, or a completely unrelated cause."
Presler added that Act for America's alleged diversity shields it from being grouped with white supremacists, noting that Gabriel is an Arab-American and that the head organizer of the marches is gay.
Still, that doesn't preclude the group from rabid Islamophobia, as Gabriel's statements in the video below make clear:
Heidi Beirich, director of the Southern Poverty Law Center's Intelligence Project, says anti-Muslim hate is a great unifier among far-right groups, and especially militia groups, however disparate or seemingly opposed their beliefs may be.
"Alliances have been building for some time between anti-government and anti-Muslim groups, and Saturday's events are another concrete example of this disturbing trend," Beirich said.
Interfaith protesters across the country are planning counter-demonstrations at the "March Against Sharia" events.
On Friday, 129 organizations, including the Anti-Defamation League, Amnesty International and the Center for New Community, sent a letter to mayors in the 29 cities where the marches are scheduled, calling on them to "reject" Act for America's "bigotry," and to "issue an official statement to reiterate to the people of your city that every person is welcome."
March organizers canceled one rally in Portland, Oregon and relocated it to Seattle in response to pressure from Portland's mayor, who worried about the rally's effect on a city already reeling from two recent hate-fueled killings.
Late last month, a white supremacist aboard a MAX train in Portland screamed anti-Muslim threats at two teenage girls, one of whom was wearing a hijab. He then stabbed three men who stepped up to defend the girls, killing two of them.
One of the biggest rallies is happening in New York, but Rosemary Boeglin, a spokeswoman for Mayor Bill de Blasio's office, told HuffPost that the event doesn't represent New York City.
"To host an event, particularly during Islam's highest holy month, with the explicit intention of reducing an entire community to inaccurate and hateful stereotypes is not what we stand for in New York City," Boeglin said.
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